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Letter To Maria Gisborne
by [?]

Composed during Shelley’s occupation of the Gisbornes’ house at Leghorn, July, 1820; published in “Posthumous Poems”, 1824.

The spider spreads her webs, whether she be
In poet’s tower, cellar, or barn, or tree;
The silk-worm in the dark green mulberry leaves
His winding sheet and cradle ever weaves;
So I, a thing whom moralists call worm, 5
Sit spinning still round this decaying form,
From the fine threads of rare and subtle thought–
No net of words in garish colours wrought
To catch the idle buzzers of the day–
But a soft cell, where when that fades away,
Memory may clothe in wings my living name
And feed it with the asphodels of fame,
Which in those hearts which must remember me
Grow, making love an immortality.

Whoever should behold me now, I wist, 15
Would think I were a mighty mechanist,
Bent with sublime Archimedean art
To breathe a soul into the iron heart
Of some machine portentous, or strange gin,
Which by the force of figured spells might win
Its way over the sea, and sport therein;
For round the walls are hung dread engines, such
As Vulcan never wrought for Jove to clutch
Ixion or the Titan:–or the quick
Wit of that man of God, St. Dominic,
To convince Atheist, Turk, or Heretic,
Or those in philanthropic council met,
Who thought to pay some interest for the debt
They owed to Jesus Christ for their salvation,
By giving a faint foretaste of damnation
To Shakespeare, Sidney, Spenser, and the rest
Who made our land an island of the blest,
When lamp-like Spain, who now relumes her fire
On Freedom’s hearth, grew dim with Empire:–
With thumbscrews, wheels, with tooth and spike and jag,
Which fishers found under the utmost crag
Of Cornwall and the storm-encompassed isles,
Where to the sky the rude sea rarely smiles
Unless in treacherous wrath, as on the morn
When the exulting elements in scorn,
Satiated with destroyed destruction, lay
Sleeping in beauty on their mangled prey,
As panthers sleep;–and other strange and dread
Magical forms the brick floor overspread,–
Proteus transformed to metal did not make
More figures, or more strange; nor did he take
Such shapes of unintelligible brass,
Or heap himself in such a horrid mass
Of tin and iron not to be understood;
And forms of unimaginable wood,
To puzzle Tubal Cain and all his brood:
Great screws, and cones, and wheels, and grooved blocks,
The elements of what will stand the shocks
Of wave and wind and time.–Upon the table
More knacks and quips there be than I am able
To catalogize in this verse of mine:–
A pretty bowl of wood–not full of wine,
But quicksilver; that dew which the gnomes drink
When at their subterranean toil they swink,
Pledging the demons of the earthquake, who
Reply to them in lava–cry halloo!
And call out to the cities o’er their head,–
Roofs, towers, and shrines, the dying and the dead,
Crash through the chinks of earth–and then all quaff
Another rouse, and hold their sides and laugh.
This quicksilver no gnome has drunk–within
The walnut bowl it lies, veined and thin,
In colour like the wake of light that stains
The Tuscan deep, when from the moist moon rains
The inmost shower of its white fire–the breeze
Is still–blue Heaven smiles over the pale seas.
And in this bowl of quicksilver–for I
Yield to the impulse of an infancy
Outlasting manhood–I have made to float
A rude idealism of a paper boat:–
A hollow screw with cogs–Henry will know
The thing I mean and laugh at me,–if so
He fears not I should do more mischief.–Next
Lie bills and calculations much perplexed,
With steam-boats, frigates, and machinery quaint
Traced over them in blue and yellow paint.
Then comes a range of mathematical
Instruments, for plans nautical and statical,
A heap of rosin, a queer broken glass
With ink in it;–a china cup that was
What it will never be again, I think,–
A thing from which sweet lips were wont to drink
The liquor doctors rail at–and which I
Will quaff in spite of them–and when we die
We’ll toss up who died first of drinking tea,
And cry out,–‘Heads or tails?’ where’er we be.
Near that a dusty paint-box, some odd hooks,
A half-burnt match, an ivory block, three books,
Where conic sections, spherics, logarithms,
To great Laplace, from Saunderson and Sims,
Lie heaped in their harmonious disarray
Of figures,–disentangle them who may.
Baron de Tott’s Memoirs beside them lie,
And some odd volumes of old chemistry.
Near those a most inexplicable thing,
With lead in the middle–I’m conjecturing
How to make Henry understand; but no–
I’ll leave, as Spenser says, with many mo,
This secret in the pregnant womb of time,
Too vast a matter for so weak a rhyme.